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County clerk reports mold problem in historic courthouse

The Gadsden County Court House, a local landmark, is in trouble. Like much aging architecture, recent years haven’t been kind to the government building. The roof was recently replaced after leaks developed — and now the walls show signs of the same problem.
Nicholas Thomas, Gadsden County Clerk of Courts, raised the issue at the July 15 BoCC meeting. He cited an air-quality report that positively detected and identified at least eight specific types of mold growing inside the historic building.
“The older it gets, the more attention it needs,” said Thomas during a later Times interview. “You can’t just let it go.”
Joe Munroe, interior designer and local historian, said the courthouse “is considered an architectural treasure.”
According to     Munroe, the Quincy centerpiece is a neoclassical structure built by Hal Hentz in 1913. Hentz was a local boy who studied design in Paris. His Atlanta-based architectural firm, established in 1909, founded the Georgia School of Classicism.
“It’s one of the very few courthouses in continuous operation,” said Munroe.
But this operation might not last. Without proper attention, mold can render a building uninhabitable — which would constitute a cultural loss for Gadsden County.
Kris Retherford, a Florida Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant with the company Aire Diagnostics, prepared the 20-page report on the condition of the courthouse.
The report details the health threats associated with the presence of toxic mold.
One present mold, Alternaria, is a human allergen. A different mold, Aspergillus, can cause lung infections in people with weak immune systems. Another, Cladosprium, has been reported to cause skin, nail, sinus, and more lung infections — which can develop into pneumonia. A fourth type of mold, Myxomycetes, was once regarded as an animal, oozing slowly over decaying surfaces and ingesting the solid food they cover.
Much of the issue begins with moisture.  
According to Retherford’s report, some of the block walls in the building’s basement hold a 95 percent moisture content.  
But the mold problem is not caused by leaks alone. The trouble is two-fold. According to Thomas, the structure’s retrofit ventilation system might be acting as a direct conduit for the spreading of fungi spores.
The courthouse’s air conditioning ducts, which the historic structure was not originally designed to house, are home to at least one kind of mold in the building.
 “No viable fresh air intakes were observed,” wrote Retherford.
While Thomas readily and repeatedly acknowledged previous courthouse problems had been addressed by the county staff, he said he was concerned about the speed with which the work was done. He also said he would like to see the administration become proactive rather than reactive when considering the historic building.
The clerk e-mailed the commission June 26, sharing Retherford’s report and warning the elected board about the building’s further deteriorating conditions.  
“Washington County provides a recent example of a catastrophic failure to properly maintain an old courthouse,” wrote Thomas. “Let’s not go there.”
During the July 15 meeting, Commissioner Sherrie Taylor told Thomas his request should have been made in the form of an official agenda item so the commissioners could vote on the allocation of funds.
Thomas disagreed, saying air quality issues should be a question of routine maintenance rather than a special expense.
Thomas said in the Times interview that County Administrator Robert Presnell reacted to the problem within three days after the meeting. A cleanup effort is underway.   
And it’s not too late. Despite the seriousness of the findings, according to Retherford’s report, the local landmark is far from being a lost cause.
“There is no evidence to suggest the building ha a heavy mold growth issue within the structural components,” wrote Retherford. “There is however several areas with mold growth that are in need of remediation and areas of the building that have been neglected and should be repaired to prevent more indoor contaminants than present now.”